Friday, February 08, 2008

How on earth do you afford to do that?

I've been asked how I can afford to be at home fulltime. Here are the basics, and how we made it happen, and maintain it year after year.

A great approach that helps many people is to basically work your way out of a job. That means, you should slowly begin to live on one income. You keep your job the whole time you're doing that, and don't quit or move to something else until you are actually making it work.

First, you have to know what you're spending ... really ... like every single penny. If you don't already have a written budget that you actually follow, then you need to journal for a month. Write down every penny and dime that your family spends. Document it in some way, so that you can add it all up at the end of 30 days. Grab a soda? Write it down. Lunch with friends? Write it down.

Then, take a good hard look at where your money goes. Realize that you've already spent less in the past 30 days because you've had to document it all ... making you think before every expenditure. Utilize a budget calculator (google for one!) to determine where your spending is out of whack. For many people, making changes in Housing, Auto and/or Food can make a big impact on their budget.

Set your budget in a reasonable way (based on what you are spending already) then go to the "Envelope System." Cash your checks, and divide up the cash into little snack baggies - one baggy for every area of spending. You won't go over budget when there is no longer money left in the baggy! It forces you to stay with your plan.

Then, start to trim. Look long and hard at money you already have available to you. We went without cable or satellite TV for years - just renting movies from the library and sending my husband to a friend's house for the "big games." Many people do away with their home phone, and only use cell phones. My family only eats out on occasion, and I make a meal plan each week - only go to the store once. This week, because of some great sales, I bought groceries to feed my family of five for seven full days on less than $90! When we just had one child, I still cooked a full meal for "just the two of us" and then we froze half for another week. If things came up during the week, and we were not going to be home for a planned meal, it either got delayed into the next week, or cooked up the next day and frozen.

My husband and I budget for one date dinner out a month. We budget for the family to eat out about once a week. I have to spend more time planning. I have to spend more time preparing. Yet, because of that, I'm spending more time at home with my kids. That's where the sacrifice and give-and-take comes in. For me, it's worth it. It's totally worth it.

We moved to a new town (drastic decrease in the cost of living) when I was pregnant with our first child. That was a huge jump start for us. I have friends who chose to sell their home and downsize. Several friends only have one car - or keep older cars just as long as they possibly can. Another friend's family bought an old manufactured home with a little land (less than 1000 sf) where they lived with their SEVEN CHILDREN for a year and paid off debt. That whole family has such great stories and memories from that time. They then moved into a bigger home (while still, much smaller than what most people would find "adequate"). One couple shared a home with another couple for several years, living in community and paying off debt!

You have to make very difficult choices. You have to find pride in your decision, instead of pride in all the stuff you have or all the things you can afford to do. You may drive a very old car (we are still driving my '93 Nissan Sentra - it takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'!). We rarely buy new clothes (better for the pocketbook AND the environment!). I have taught myself to sew and mend. I have taught myself how to be a better and more logical cook. When someone asks us out to eat, and it's outside of the budget, we suggest they come over for coffee and dessert to hang out. We've rediscovered the fine art of conversation and playing games, instead of making every gathering over an overpriced meal.

We never buy new cars - ever.

We put money into a college savings fund every month, instead of paying for my girls to do competitive cheerleading and my son to be on a traveling sports team. My kids choose lesser expensive activities and community programs. If it's "free," we're all over it!

I do not "go shopping" for fun. If it's a budgeted need, we buy it.

I know this has been information overload. Remember, though, that you have to start somewhere. I'm a decade down the road. It was a slow process. Things have changed and evolved each and every year. We rework our budget annually. We have had changes in jobs and housing and children.

Start today, in some way. Start moving in that direction!


FireMom said...

*nods* One way that I came home was that we gave up cable until we could afford it again. Didn't miss it much either! We also ate at home more often (meal planning for two weeks at a time is AWESOME) and utilized "free" time spending stuff as opposed to shopping/etc. (The park, the library, etc.)

It's totally possible. Husband didn't think it would be but it tooooootally is!


All very wonderful pieces of info. After checking the spending calculator, I realized we're not doing so badly on our budget!! YAY!! We're actually under the recommended amounts in a lot of areas!

Granted, we only have one child, but that gives us room/time to grow.

Thanks for sharing all of this!

Grace, Every Day said...

I'm raising my five one on income, and spending as much time as possible with them at home. When we started cutting costs, cable was first to go. After a year, I've contemplating reconnecting - but the KIDS tell me they don't want it. They feel like it's too distracting - so that development is worth every unspent penny!

We also quit buying sodas, except for very special occasions (like, "let's have a junk food night!") Granted, I spend a lot on milk, but we limit our liquids to water, OJ and some other juices (when they're on sale). I rarely buy anything at the store unless it's on sale, and that's become ingrained in the kids' understanding of what's on the shelves at home.

I drive an old Suburban and love it, and have been blessed to be given other vehicles to use.

We don't pay for garbage pick up, even though it's a pain. I take our stuff to the dump (and we take recycling, too). It's inconvenient, but it's $30 a month.

I could do better, but like you said, it's a slow process. Thanks for your details - they inspire me!